Beef stew is just one of those meals that screams comfort (although in a quiet tone). It's a hearty meal all in one, and you'll be left with enough for at least one good lunch the next day. Not all beef stew is created equal, though, and if you skip some steps or rush it, you'll just end up disappointed.
Avoid this by following the tips below and enjoy a warm, delicious bowl of comfort food.
1. Use chuck
Don't simply use whatever you have in the freezer. Just because a cut of meat is tender to start with doesn't mean it'll make for a super-tender beef stew. A tender cut such as beef tenderloin will shrivel up and dry out before your stew even really starts to cook.
Stew beef needs lots of fatty and connective tissue, which melts through the beef as it cooks and makes it melt-in-your-mouth tender. Buy a whole chuck roast and cut it into bite-sized pieces, or pick up a package of stew beef.
2. Dry the beef
Beef meant for stew doesn't need to be rinsed (no meat does, really), but it does need to be dried. Otherwise, the water on it will make it steam, which can inhibit the melting factor of fat and leave the beef a bit flavorless. Simply blot each piece of meat fully dry with paper towel before moving ahead with your stew. If you've been skipping this step, you'll be surprised at the difference it makes.
3. Sear the beef
It can't be said enough: Sear beef before you add it to any dish. This is the only way to get that rich, deep flavor. After you've dried it, sear the meat in a hot pan over medium-high heat on every side. That richness is going to carry through the entire stew and make it much more flavorful. Sear the meat in batches, which also prevents steaming. Use a bit of wine to deglaze the pan and scrape up all the browned bits. A ton of flavor is still in there, and you'll be losing out if you throw it out with the dishwater.
4. Go easy on the thickening agent
Many people think beef stew is made up of beef pieces swimming in gravy, but it's actually supposed to be just a thicker broth than you'd find in soup. To get that perfect texture, you need only a little bit of thickener. This is especially true if you're using potatoes, which release some of their starch as they cook and help thicken the stew. Regardless of whether you're using potatoes, do not add cornstarch or flour in at the end of cooking time; you really don't need it.
If you don't trust potatoes alone to thicken your stew, use a bit of flour at the beginning of the process. Before you sear the beef, toss it in flour and shake off the excess, then sear it. The flour on the beef will carry through to the stew and give it the thickness you're looking for.
5. Time the veggies
It can be tempting to throw all the ingredients into that big stew pot and let it simmer away for hours, but that would be a mistake. Typically, you'll use a variety of veggies that require different cooking times, and none of them will need to cook as long as the beef does.
So, start with onions, garlic, beef, broth and wine (if using), and let it all simmer together for about an hour to an hour and a half. Then, add the root vegetables that take a little longer to cook, such as potatoes and parsnips. At the very end of cooking (about half an hour before serving), add the more delicate vegetables such as mushrooms, peas and corn. While this means going back to the pot more than once, everything will be cooked perfectly.
6. Don't overcook it
Although beef stew seems like one of those things you could never overcook, you can. For the average beef stew that uses between 1 and 2 pounds of beef, two to three hours is pretty standard. If you cook it longer than that, your beef could taste burned and dry (yes, that can happen even with the right cut of beef).
7. Skim, skim, skim
Nothing can ruin a beef stew more than an oily taste and feeling in the mouth. For this reason, you have to skim the fat off the surface. Do this while the stew is cooking — or, even easier, make the stew the day before you plan on serving it. Cover it and set it in the fridge overnight. The fat will rise to the top and solidify so you can remove it easily with a spoon.